Tactics board from youth module course

Coaching Session of the Month

when to play direct, and when to play through the thirds of the pitch

This month Chris takes a look at match day tactics, in particular about coaches noticing what is going on during games, how you can adjust your teams tactics to deal with what’s happening, how you can get your team to notice, and how you can put on a session which links all these things.

Most coaches will tell you that they want their team to play a possession based game, to dominate possession and to build attacks through the 3 thirds of the pitch. But is this style of play appropriate all of the time? What do you do if you are playing a team that like to squeeze up, restricting the space in the middle of the pitch?

In November’s newsletter, we looked at how you can reduce the amount of goals your team concedes by dropping deeper, restricting the space in behind your defence, making it more difficult for a team to make a penetrating pass or run. If you play a team who set up like this, how does that change the way you play, as opposed to playing a team who do the opposite and push up to play more compact?

Chris’s practice splits the pitch into thirds. The set-up is for 18 players, as Chris is really keen to include practices and guidance for those coaching in the 11v11 game. You can vary the practice to cater for the number of players you have, but the concept remains the same.

The practice starts with players locked in their thirds. This is likely to encourage playing through the thirds, as opposed to playing direct, as the space behind the defence will be limited. To encourage more direct play, you can introduce offside in the final third, therefore encouraging defenders to push out.

Coaching Session of the month December

Linking your session to match day

The first thing as a coach is to notice how your opponents set up, as this will influence how you play. You can then challenge your team to remember the things you covered in your session.  

When and how to play direct

Recognise when there is space behind the opponent’s back 3 or 4 to penetrate when in possession of the ball. This is likely to be the case when their back line pushes up.

Can your players make long diagonal passes in behind the defence with quality?

And if your opponents drop deep, restricting the space in behind?

This gives more opportunity to play out from the back, so you can look to do the following:

  • Centre halves split to receive from the goalkeeper, full backs push on to provide width
  • The number 4 moves on an angle to receive an angled ball from the 5 or 6
  • Can your number 10 drop into the space between the defensive and midfield lines to receive